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'Charted' Territory

By Daniel Shaw:

For every consistently bad thing that happens, a common explanation is that the action itself was cursed from the beginning. As someone who thoroughly enjoys movies and video games, I’m thrilled and terrified every time the two crossover. It’s actually very normal for a movie to be adapted into a video game, even though a number of those outings tend to have their own poor results. Looking back, we can see examples of this in systems as old as the Atari 2500. The infamously bad “E.T.” on the Atari is just one such example, though it seemed to set a long-standing precedent. On the flip side is a task that seems extremely difficult, nigh on impossible, for the movie-making machine that is Hollywood: the movie adaptation of a video game. This past week, an extraordinary thing happened concerning one my favorite game franchises of all time: Uncharted.

Uncharted is a series that centers on treasure hunter, historian, and thief Nathan Drake. The self-proclaimed descendant of Sir Francis Drake, Nate, along with his mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan, has taken on some of history’s greatest mysteries. From El Dorado to the lesser-known Iram of the Pillars, Drake has uncovered some pretty amazing places. For the last five years, an Uncharted movie has been in development. Unfortunately, it’s been development hell, as the project has changed directorial hands several times and gone through as many teams of writers. Recently, a final script has been turned in that will feature a young Nathan Drake meeting Sully for the first time as they begin their adventures together. The film has also signed on Spider-Man star Tom Holland in the role of young Drake. However, the project has still remained in a sort of limbo without much news as of late. So independent filmmaker Allan Ungar said “hold my beer” and put together a fifteen-minute fan film starring none other than Nathan Fillion.

This fan film is FANtastic. For years, loyal players have argued that Fillion would be perfect for a live-action adaptation, since his character in the cult hit Firefly shares many of Drake’s personality traits. The developers of the games have also gone on record that Drake’s facial features and personality were directly based on Fillion since many on the team were fans of Firefly.

As with any entry in the series, the opening card features an enigmatic quote that perfectly sets the tone. We’re then greeted with some aerial shots that, for the budget of the film, are very impressive. A familiar figure, his head covered by a black bag, is brought into an ornate mansion and roughly sat down among our villains. Around his neck is the famous Francis Drake ring with the engraving “Sic Parvus Magna” or “Greatness from Small Beginnings.” Voice-over artist Nolan North has portrayed Drake since the inaugural game. Along with delivering Nate’s voice, North also provides the motion capture for the character’s movements. Since then, he has completely owned the character in his tenure, but when we see Fillion it’s clear the two now have co-ownership of the role.

Stephen Lang as Victor "Sully" Sullivan

Fillion effortlessly recreates the mannerisms, facial expressions, and bottomless wit of Nathan Drake. Portraying Drake’s mentor, Sully, is Steven Lang. Admittedly, it was at first a somewhat hard sell for me. I wasn’t sure if Lang would be a good choice for the role, but he did very well at capturing Sully’s signature swagger. The games’ action set pieces are some of the greatest standout moments in any genre, so naturally fans would be curious as to how these would translate to live-action. The action in this film, while short and restrained, does provide a decent insight into how it plays out in the actual game. There’s a really great moment after Nathan jumps out of a window and the camera pans around to his back as he draws his pistol. It wonderfully recreates that near seamless moment when the game transitions from cut scene to gameplay. Packed among this barrel of fan service is a fun little mystery with some well-researched history to back it up. It would have been so easy for this team to dress Fillion and Lang in their costumes, have them say some jokes, and then finish with a quick shootout. However, it was clear they knew Uncharted is more than that; at its heart it is an engaging treasure-hunt adventure with characters that leap off the screen.

It’s truly baffling how a fan project with a quarter of the runtime and a fraction of the budget can produce something so good, while Hollywood is always leaving us disappointed. It is of course a question of so many parts of the Hollywood team having input, while a fan film can often be driven by a single vision. That being said, this outing of Uncharted has everything it needs; excellent casting, sharply written dialogue, and an intriguing story. Yet the key to this film’s success is something Hollywood adaptations have sadly lacked: the heart of its source material. This could easily sit on a shelf next to the games and it would fit in perfectly. Fan films such as these show that it can be done; the video-game movie does not have to be an unattainable dream. It all comes down to a simple recipe of the right people, attention to detail, and respect for where the story came from.

Watch the film here:

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